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Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs


Other Common Names Include:

Tall panic grass, tall prairiegrass, thatchgrass

Latin Name: Panicum virgatum

Plant Family: Poaceae

Close Relatives: Other Panicum species, proso millet, foxtail millet

Uses and Markets: Industrial (fibre, biocomposites, paper, bioenergy), animal feed and bedding

Typical weed pressure seen during the first season of establishmentThree year old switchgrass plants standing approximately 2m tall.

Production Life Cycle in Ontario


Hardiness Zone


Special Notes

Switchgrass varieties fall into two forms: lowland cultivars, which generally produce more biomass, and upland cultivars, which are preferred for northern areas due to their higher cold tolerance.

Propagation method


Greenhouse Seeding/Propagation Dates


Field Seeding Date:

Mid-spring, but fall seeding is possible

Field Transplanting Dates


In-Row Spacing
9 kg/ha pure live seed (~570,000 seeds/kg).  Pure live seed is a measure of the amount of live seed in a bulk seed lot.

Between row spacing


Optimal Soil temperature at planting



No current Ontario fertility recommendations exist. Research and recommendations from outside Ontario do not necessarily apply to Ontario growing conditions.  Ontario research indicates some yield response to nitrogen rates up to 160kg N/ha..  N fertilizer should not be applied during the seeding year because it encourages weed competition.  If deficiencies of P and K exist (less than 10 ppm or 22 kg P/ha, less than 90 ppm or 202 kg K/ha), these nutrients can be applied and cultivated into the soil before planting.  Click here for phosphorus and potassium application guidelines and for more information on specialty crop fertility.

Soil type

Well drained soils of finer texture are preferable to heavy or light soils.

Soil pH


Special requirements for growth habit

Small seeded crops require good seed to soil contact and finely prepared seedbeds.  Soil moisture should be available for a month after sowing.  A nurse crop (e.g. spring wheat) may promote better stand establishment, reduce weed pressure and provide income during the first year.

Optimal Temperature Range

24-29 °C

Temperature sensitivity

Upland varieties are winter hardy.

Irrigation requirements

Moisture is required during initial stand establishment.  Mature stands are drought tolerant, but produce less yield under dry conditions.

Days to harvest

Depends on end use. Switchgrass can be grazed during the growing season, cut and baled as hay in the fall, or, if used for biofuel, cut and windrowed in late fall, and harvested in the spring.  This allows nutrients to move back into the roots and leach back into the soil.  Spring harvest will result in lower yields, but the grass will be of higher quality for combustion.

Specialized equipment


Harvest Scheduling

Single harvest.  Two harvests possible if used as a forage crop.

Hand harvest or machine harvest

Machine harvest; Standard field-crop equipment including sickle mowers, haybines, and round balers.

Quality parameters/grades:

No established grades. Quality is determined by the market.

Additional Harvest Notes


Post harvest
Special handling/curing

Crop can be stored in Ag-bags if not baled.  May need to be ground and densified for the biofuels market.

Storage Conditions

Relative humidity (RH): Store in a cool/dry environment.

Temperature: N/A

Air Exchange: N/A

Duration: Indefinitely

Specific pests observed on this crop in Ontario (observations based on limited experience with this crop)

Insects and Invertebrates:

Diseases: Rust (Puccinia spp.)


Other Potential Pests: The following pests have not been observed on this crop in Ontario. However, they are either significant concerns for closely related plants in Ontario, or are reported on this crop in other production areas. This is not a comprehensive list of all potential pests. Not all of these pests will necessarily survive Ontario’s climate, but could potentially survive in a protected environment (e.g. greenhouse, storage facility).

Insects and Invertebrates: Grasshoppers, leafhoppers, aphids, stem borers, wireworms

Diseases: Head smut (Tilletia maclagani), viruses (barley yellow dwarf virus, Panicum moasaic virus)


*Indicates pests commonly mentioned as causing significant damage or economic loss to this crop in other regions.


Crops grown for biomass can tolerate higher levels of insect and disease damage than those grown for food or ornamental use. There is some concern that biomass crops can serve as a refuge for pests of neighbouring crops. Weed control will likely be necessary during the first one to two years as weeds will compete with establishing plants.To date the following pests have been the most significant in Ontario: rust.  For more information on Crop Groups, refer to the Pest section. There are few to no pest control products registered on this crop. For more information, consult an OMAFRA specialist.

Additional Notes


Ontario Research Projects Used to Create This Profile

  1. Engbers, Heather Morgan.  2012.  Evaluation of Nitrogen Fertilization in C4 Grasses Grown for Bioenergy.  M.Sc. Thesis, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON. 
  2. Hilla Kludze, Bill Deen, and Animesh Dutta. 2011.  Report on Literature Review of Agronomic Practices for Energy Crop Production under Ontario Conditions.  University of Guelph. 
  3. Samson, R., 2007. Resource Efficient Agricultural Production (REAP) – Canada. Switchgrass Production in Ontario: A Management Guide
  1. Christensen, Cory A. and Gary Koppenjan, eds., 2010. Planting and Managing Switchgrass as a Dedicated Energy Crop, 2nd ed. Blade Energy Crops,. 
  2. Oklahoma State University.  Switchgrass.